Lessons from things adolescents (almost) never say

Adolescence is a tricky period of existence which presents developmental challenges across the social, physical, and emotional dimensions of the lives of young people. There are several important developmental issues for adolescence.

By reflecting on the things we'd be surprised to hear adolescents say, this article provides comment from contemporary research to guide teachers, and parents, in their support for a stronger and more positive transition through the murky adolescent years.

‘I'm so great, I reckon I'd date me if I could'

Most adolescents have a very self-critical eye, and they can be absolutely focused on their physicality. They have a hyper-interest in how they are being perceived and ‘judged' by others (Bahr, 2006). This is an important stage of identity building (Crocetti, 2018). This is complicated by the fact that they are undergoing significant physical changes and often feel out of control.

This can result in them finding fault with themselves and all sorts of unbalanced behaviours can ensue, including some extreme eating issues and disorders, through to substance abuse with steroids. Lack of control over undesired or awkward physical changes can cause a great deal of stress. Parents and teachers can help by highlighting their positive attributes.

‘I'm really looking forward to exam week'

Assessment can be an extremely stressful time (Raufelder, Regner, & Wood, 2018). High stakes! It seems exams are here to stay, but it truly is not the end of the world if grades take a plunge. No need to stress, the way toward their dream job can be quite a convoluted and surprising one.

Schools, teachers, and parents that overemphasise the place of examination results, or even school grades over the long term, can seed long-term negative self-efficacy and belief in young people. For those students that perform well on these assessments, the long-term outcomes are also problematic, as adult life tends not to provide regular proof of success and students that have thrived on the challenge and celebration of examination achievement can feel short changed and dissatisfied when pursuing their careers. In the short term though, exam stress is real and has become a feature of senior schooling.

‘Thanks for asking about my career plans'

It can be very confronting to be constantly asked what next, what career, and why. Young people find it hard to imagine life beyond school, and the idea that choice of career pathways can be set or spoiled easily can evoke free floating anxiety (Lipshits-Braziler, 2018).

We can lessen the stress by showing adolescents the many pathways that are available to them, and reminding them that time is on their side to gently work their way into their careers. During adolescence, thinking associated with planning is particularly challenged as the stage is marked by significant physical reconstruction of neuronal resources associated with decision making.

‘I think I'll get up early tomorrow'

Adolescence coincides with dramatic physical changes, hormonal fluctuations, and just plain growth spurts. It's hard physical work, and can be exhausting. Sleep is magical, and adolescents benefit from feeding their call to sleep whenever they can. The sleep will provide them with mental downtime to assist them with the neural construction work going on in their brains (Giedd, 2018).

‘I don't really want a lot of friends. It's enough having just mum and dad to hang with'

Friends frame the identity for adolescents. Individuals try to establish themselves as successful and independent. It is a time to break free from their parents (Xiang & Liu, 2018). However, they still need guidance and support, and without it, can feel very anxious and helpless. They can be helped by finding ways to establish positive high energy and interactive role model relationships with an adult other than a parent.

Teachers and parents are often challenged by the behaviours and attitudes of the adolescents in their lives. However, they do have a role to help adolescents to travel through the difficult transitions that present themselves for their physical, social, and emotional selves. The simple guidance here is to listen. Listen and watch their behaviour. Give them space, privacy and permission to create themselves, close at hand to support, but at arm's length.


Bahr, N. (2006). The millennial adolescent. Australian Council for Educational Research: Melbourne.

Crocetti, E. (2018). Identity dynamics in adolescence: Processes, antecedents, and consequences. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 15(1), 11-23.

Giedd, J. N. (2018). A ripe time for adolescent research. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 28(1), 157-159.

Lipshits-Braziler, Y. (2018). Coping with career indecision among young adults: Implications for career counselling. In New perspectives on career counselling and guidance in Europe (pp. 71-85). Springer, Cham.

Raufelder, D., Regner, N., & Wood, M. A. (2018). Test anxiety and learned helplessness is moderated by student perceptions of teacher motivational support. Educational Psychology, 38(1), 54-74.

Xiang, S., & Liu, Y. (2018). Understanding the joint effects of perceived parental psychological control and insecure attachment styles: A differentiated approach to adolescent autonomy. Personality and Individual Differences, 126, 12-18.

When discussing career options and plans with your students, do you show them the many pathways available? Do you discuss associated timeframes and remind them that they have time on their side when it comes to their career?

Think of a recent example where you discussed exam results with your students. Was this something they were deeply concerned about? How do you navigate these conversations and provide support?